Although New York City is somewhat solemnly celebrating extended outdoor dining through winter and year-round, Covid-19 is still threatening restaurants, bars, and the public across America. With fall officially here, most of us will soon face the end of outdoor dining and drinking, or at least a greatly limited version of it for the next four to six months, if not longer.
On the flip side, that means the trend toward home bartending we saw in spring and early summer will undoubtedly accelerate — perhaps with new, seasonal focuses. Instead of the Margarita and its many variants being the most popular drinks to make at home, will bourbon-based drinks like the Manhattan or Old Fashioned stake their claims at the top of the DIY drinking list? How can bourbon producers and beverage brands, bars, and bartenders alike find ways to contribute to — and potentially profit from — this emerging trend?
What flavors, spirits, and emotions will color fall and winter drinking habits? That’s what Adam Teeter, Erica Duecy, and Zach Geballe discuss on this week’s special episode of the VinePair Podcast, recorded live as part of Tales of the Cocktail’s virtual conference last week.
Or check out our conversation here
Adam: From Brooklyn, New York, I’m Adam Teeter.
Erica: From Jersey City, I’m Erica Duecy.
Zach: And in Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe.
A: And this is a live Tales of the Cocktail edition of our podcast. Guys, what’s going on?
E: Hey. Excited to be here. I see you guys on video now. Usually, we’re just doing audio.
Z: I know. And I’ve long wanted to go to Tales of the Cocktail, so now I can say I’ve been, even though it does not involve going to New Orleans or necessarily doing more than putting on a shirt. You don’t even know if I’m wearing pants — which may have been the case if I had gone to New Orleans.
A: Zach, have you never been?
Z: I’ve never been.
A: Erica, what about you?
E: Yeah, I’ve been several times. I’ve presented a couple of times, and it is very hot but so much fun.
A: I actually can’t imagine what it would have been like this year if they would have done it this time of year, because I’m sure it would have been lovely. July in New Orleans is definitely super warm, but it’s always a great time. There are so many people that you get to meet, so many connections that you get to make, so many amazing bars that you get to sample cocktails from which are doing pop-ups across New Orleans. It’s a pretty amazing experience. It’s hard to replicate almost anywhere else, I think, given New Orleans’ attachment to cocktail culture and the fact that the United States is the birthplace of cocktails. Let’s be real: It fits there in a very different way than other conferences in other parts of the world. It’s a very cool experience, and I obviously can’t wait to get back to Tales next year in real life.
Z: I can’t wait to sweat my ass off with you all next year.
A: Before we kick into everything, I know we all made cocktails because it is Tales of the Cocktail. Zach, what are you drinking?
Z: I got back in the house just in time for our recording, so I had to settle for just grabbing something off the shelf. But fortunately, I have some selections back here and I’m drinking my favorite, which is also what I named my dog. This is Willett Bourbon, a classic Kentucky distillery — and it’s delicious all the time, including right now, in the middle of the afternoon here in Seattle.
A: Definitely a lot of Willett is consumed during Tales. Or just a lot of bourbon in general. Erica, what about you?
E: I have a very cool new liqueur from Forthave Spirits. It’s a small Brooklyn distillery. Dan Daylon, who owns it, is someone I’ve known for about 20 years. And it’s been so cool to see this distillery come out and make a bunch of amaros and digestifs. This new product that they just released that I’m drinking is called ‘Yellow.’ It’s yellow, and it’s a really gorgeous liqueur that you can drink yourself. One of the things that I find tough about aperitif culture is sometimes there’s so much sweetness. But this is a really incredibly well-balanced liqueur that I actually have just been drinking over the rocks and it’s gorgeous. It has some bitterness and some floral qualities. I received it in the mail a couple weeks ago, and I’ve just been drinking it over ice pretty consistently. So cheers to Forthave Spirits.
Z: What about you, Adam?
A: I’ve got this awesome new tequila called LALO that is actually made by the grandson of Don Julio. It’s a pretty cool tequila. It’s out of Austin. It’s the only place it’s available right now. It’s a group of three guys who started it. The grandson, whose nickname is Lalo, he was making tequila for fun in Mexico and then was going to visit friends in Austin and kept bringing what he was distilling and all of them were like, “This is really good.” His whole idea is sort of returning to blanco as the premiere place to showcase tequila. While reposados and anejos are interesting, he really feels as if the pure form of tequila is blanco, so that’s all they do. And they do it really well. And they take the agave they’re harvesting really seriously, so they want old agave that’s at least seven years old, they’re not going for the really young stuff that a lot of people are using just to keep up with demand right now. And they really want all of those floral and herbaceous notes from the agave to really come through. Their belief is that when you get to reposado and añejo, you lose a lot of the flavor of the true agave and it gets covered by wood. So they’re really just trying to highlight agave because tequila wouldn’t exist without it. It’s a super-cool spirit. And I love the packaging, I think it’s just gorgeous. I’m drinking Ranch Water because it’s still too early in the day.
E: I was so excited when I was just looking through our cocktail recipe database and I saw that Ranch Water is now in our top 50 cocktails.
A: I know it’s crazy. It’s a cocktail that has come out of nowhere. It’s blown up.
A: Before we kick off today’s topic, which we’re super excited to get into, a quick word from our sponsors. The 2020 Sherry Wines Mixology Challenge is on. That’s for everyone here at Tales. If you love sherry, get in on this. Sherry, as we all should know, is a fortified wine from southern Spain that has become the secret ingredient of many innovative cocktails for its versatility and complex flavor profile. We’re looking for all mixologists out there to show their skills and enter to win by submitting your very own sherry cocktail creation. There’s going to be prizes of $3,000, $1,500, and $500 that will be awarded to the top three winners. All you have to do is go to vinepair.com/sherry-mixology-challenge for details, inspiration, and how to enter. It’s super easy. Give us your best sherry cocktail. You have a great chance. There’s an awesome slate of judges. I think everyone should get in on this. I love sherry cocktails, and I’m sure a lot of people do as well. Enter at vinepair.com/sherry-mixology-challenge. And now for this week’s topic. I figure because it’s live we wouldn’t do as much of our banter — we kind of did it already. So this week’s topic is cocktail trends coming into the fall. For those who are aware of the VinePair Insights product, a few years ago we started tagging in a very specific way all of the content on VinePair in order to truly understand where the industry was headed. And we then took that data and created an algorithm that’s able to rank an index of spirits, serves, et cetera to see where trends are moving in the world of cocktails. We thought this was a perfect topic to talk about for Tales, because not only are we coming out of Covid (and kind of still in it, which is terrible) but we’re also looking to the fall in terms of what we think the next big cocktail trends are going to be and where we are headed. With that in mind, guys, you want to kick it off? Erica, where are we headed?
E: It’s really interesting, when we look at the data — and I will say that when we started analyzing the insights data from VinePair a lot of it is also supported by what we’re seeing in Nielsen, in IWSR, and other data sources, so there’s a lot of context for some of the trends we’ve been seeing. I think the biggest trend and the real trend to focus on for brands who are listening, as well as producers and bartenders, is the at-home cocktail trend. We are seeing that spirits, liqueurs, vermouths — everything that supports the evidence of the at-home cocktail trend — has just been going up, up, up, up throughout the Covid-affected period. And I think we’re really going to see that continue into fall. One of the biggest trends that we saw this year is during the Covid- affected period is tequila. Tequila blew up, and it continues to keep going. I think bourbon is now starting to take its place back rivaling tequila. But throughout the entire summer, we saw a massive growth in tequila that was supported in off-premise sales data. When you look at VinePairs cocktail recipe database, for example, a lot of those top cocktails are Margaritas and Margarita variations. So I think tequila had a lot going for it going into Covid.
Z: And I think an important thing to note here is when we’re talking about at-home cocktails, we’re talking about two distinct appeals for people. And I think this was the same thing when we did this same topic talking about what we thought summer would be like, and I think, not to toot our own horn too much, but I think we f***ing nailed what summer 2020 was going to be like from a cocktail perspective.
A: Maybe we did.
Z: You can go back and listen, folks, if you don’t believe me. But I think what we identified was that people are going to want a couple of things. They’re going to want comfort, and I think fall and winter is going to be even more about that, and that’s where bourbon and those sort of warm brown spirits are going to come into play even more. But people are also going to want the ability to feel transported. And that, to me, is the place where whether you’re a brand, whether you’re a bartender, whether you’re a bar, you have that opportunity to take people on a journey. And while I think that for the certain kind of home bartender who is interested in comfort, that I think is going to express itself in the classic cocktails. It’s going to express itself in Old Fashioneds and Manhattans and bourbon served neat. But I think that, for people who are looking to do something else, and especially when people are looking for either unusual products or they’re looking for prepackaged cocktails, where that’s going to go is: How can you take someone on a journey while still sticking with the flavor set that people expect in the fall? Tiki is a great place to look. I think bourbon cocktails are a great option or whiskey-based tiki cocktails. I think we’ve talked a lot about Cognac in the last couple of months. I think that’s another opportunity where if you do something a little bit unfamiliar to people, put a spin on it that they may not be familiar with, while still touching those classic flavors. That is a great opportunity. And I think that’s what people are going to want. They’re going to want to be able to feel like they can go on a journey without leaving their house, or at least without going too far out of their comfort zone. But they are going to want to do something other than what they can usually do at home. So if you can step into that void, that’s a huge opportunity.
A: I think there’s definitely a lot of people still doing to-go cocktails and things like that. I do think that the other thing we’re going to see is there’s going to be a lot more interest in the drinks that include vermouth. We’ve seen vermouth sales explode, and what we’re seeing on VinePair is a massive amount of traffic to all of our content about vermouth. So people are saying, “OK, I bought this because of a Negroni and I was told I had to have this because I want to make a Negroni, and now what are the other uses for it?” How do I use this in a Manhattan? I think the Manhattan is going to have a big fall. I think the Martini is going to have a big fall and into winter, because these are actually pretty easy cocktails for the at-home consumer to make. But they are also going to be looking for bartenders and brands to give them information to make them better. So if you have a personality online and you’re on Instagram, whatever, you can provide these tips, especially as a bartender, for how someone can really perfect the at-home Martini or how they can change it up a little bit. “Oh, I recommend that you should add dashes of orange bitters, and it gives it a different flavor profile.” Or, “With your Manhattan try these brands of cherries.” Or, “Try this brand of vermouth, or this rye, or this bourbon.” I think this is what people are really going to be looking for. Because we’re now seeing that they are trying to get comfortable with those ingredients and they’re playing with them more at home. So I think this is a time for a lot of bartenders, especially, to build a profile amongst consumers in their area and become a resource for those consumers. There’s a lot of other things going on in the world of drinks right now in terms of just even being worried about survival, so the first thing you may not be thinking about is also what you can do to serve people who are making drinks at home. But if you do have that extra time I think there will be a lot of wins for people that are able to provide that kind of knowledge, because I think there’s going to be more people making cocktails at home. And then, Zach, you’re completely right, looking for the more advanced cocktails out. OK, so I figured out how to make the Martini, what can I buy out of the home that feels like a treat? And I think tiki is a perfect example. It’s something that I’m not going to try to make at home.
Z: Erica will.
A: It’s a hard category. I think tiki is really difficult to master, and a lot of consumers feel that way. I think tiki is really hard to master, but people still view it as a true treat. And there’s a lot of other cocktails like that as well. And at least in New York, it feels like people are going out to the bars when they can. They’re feeling more comfortable to be outside. They’re feeling comfortable about going to pick up the cocktail and bring it home. And I’m hoping that continues through the fall.
E: A couple good points there. I was just looking through our recipe database to see what are the highest-performing cocktails. Totally fascinating. The top 50 cocktails during the Covid-affected period, even more so than before that, are made with two to four ingredients. So I think for brands, for bartenders, all of them were two-to-four-ingredient cocktails. Those are the cocktail opportunities that you have to put tweaks on. Change them up a little. So that was the top 50 cocktails, and they really were the classics. There are even things that aren’t even that popular normally, such as the gin sour, whiskey sour, things like that, in addition to the ones we all know and love, like the Martini, Aviation, Negroni, Old Fashioned. But then you look at the next 50 most popular cocktails, they are slight variations. So we’re talking the Lemon Grapefruit Martini, Espresso Martini, Paloma. Just adding in one more ingredient. And so I think that’s where there’s another level of opportunity for brands and bartenders. “OK, you’ve mastered the Margarita, let’s take it to the Paloma,” or, “You’ve mastered the Martini, here’s a couple variations.” And that’s the opportunity. I think for rum, I also agree with you that there is an opportunity there with escapism. I think the biggest challenge for tiki is really all of the ingredients. I was talking with a writer today and she is a well-known tiki mixologist and she was pitching some different ideas for tiki drinks, and I said, we have to go to the simple ones. Like grog, for example. Grog is an unheralded, delicious drink, made with dark rum, lime, simple syrup, Angostura bitters — done. That profile of tiki, but make it simple. I think that’s going to be the opportunity for tiki cocktails. What are the simplest variations that you can give so that people can actually embrace rum. And they want to embrace rum. I think they really do. And we saw rum getting some traction this summer as well.
A: I think it’s funny, every time I hear Erica talk about cocktails, I’m like, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. She wrote a really successful cocktail book.” So she actually knows what people want to read and make at home, which I think is really worth explaining. I think about it in terms of even the recipe books that I get where there’s some 20 steps in the ingredients to make the recipe and I think, “This looks delicious, but I’m just not going to do it.” And I think the same is true for lots of cocktails when it comes to at-home mixology. But people are looking for experts. They’re not going to do it on their own. They’ll come to sites like VinePair, they’ll read our recipes, but they also are looking for people they can interact with on all these different social media platforms. I know we have this as an episode coming up in a few weeks, talking about what’s happening on TikTok with everything in the cocktail world and all the people that are creating these really massive followings by showing you how to make drinks. If you look at the drinks that most people are making on TikTok as well, they are super simple. No one is going after these really in-depth drinks. No one’s fat washing. No one’s making Milk Punch, because it’s just too much for the consumer to understand. But I think a lot of people are going to have great personalities coming out of Covid, and we’ll be able to do things because they built these followings, which is really interesting.
Z: I also think the other possibility here and the other opportunity for a lot of brands and bars is to look at how you can interact with the reality for a lot of people, which is a lot of people over the course of spring and summer and into fall did a lot of stocking up. People bought lots of booze. They were like, “I don’t know when I’m going to be comfortable going to a store. I don’t know when there’s going to be shortages.” I mean, fortunately, most of those things have proven to be not such a big deal. But there’s lots of people I know who have lots of bottles of booze kicking around their house. And if you give them an “everything but the booze kit” essentially, I think about this a lot, we probably all have really bad impressions of sour mix or Margarita mix or Bloody Mary mix. But that’s just because what was typically available was crap. It was really mass-produced, not made with quality ingredients. But if you as a bar or you even as a bartender can offer someone an option where all they have to do is stir in or shake in the booze that they already have, they might not want to buy a $15 cocktail from you, but they might want to buy a $5 “everything but the booze” cocktail kit. And you can capitalize on your ability to produce a lot of those difficult-to-make, or time- consuming, laborious ingredients like syrups and stuff for tiki cocktails. I think that’s another possibility. Now, maybe that’s not as big an opportunity as some of what else we’re talking about. But I know that I’ve been approached by bars in the Seattle area who are interested in my thoughts on what to do. And that’s one thing that I’ve offered, is if you offer something like “here’s a Mai Tai, and all you have to do is add the rum.” That’s a lot more approachable than “here’s a $15 Mai Tai.” Some people are out there doing that but a lot of people are not going to go down that route all that often. And it’s also a lot more approachable than “here’s a recipe for a Mai Tai, have fun.” Those kinds of cocktails are, for me even as a relatively confident old bartender, a lot to take on. You can bridge that gap for someone and work with the knowledge that they probably have. They probably have a base spirit at home but maybe not all the other components. That’s, I think, a huge opportunity for bars and a way that they can stay more relevant in people’s lives than the occasional treat.
A: Yeah, I totally agree. It’s funny, before I decided to make the Ranch Water, I can’t remember the brand now but it’s one of these fresh juice cocktail brands that I think was serving the bar industry and then in Covid pivoted, and so you’ve already seen some of these brands do that and they’re going on to Amazon and they’re letting you buy them there. But I think what to your point, Zach, a lot of people, especially in cities, have a great bar in their neighborhood, and if I knew that I could go out and walk to the Rockwell Place — which still hasn’t opened — I could go there and I could get a bunch of different mixers that I could then take home because I already have alcohol, and then can also make it at my leisure. There’s also this pressure when you get that cocktail to-go that it’s to be consumed right now. I think people would be into it because, again, it’s just another way to get into what’s going to happen this fall. This celebratory time, OND (October, November, December) matters for every spirit’s brand. Everybody in this space really is very much focused because we know that people drink more. And we’ve already seen the level at which people drank when Covid happened. And I think it’s just going to come to massive extremes and you’re going to see what we saw in the spring, which was that tequila has always been popular and it just went a thousand times more popular. I think bourbon has always been popping, and in the fall we’re going to see has become a thousand times more popular. And so how do you take advantage of that as well? And think about that when it comes to what you’re serving to the community and how you’re staying present so that when all this blows over, you have a platform to be able to reopen again.
Z: And I think if you’re a producer, if you’re a distillery — and we have distilleries all over the country, so it’s not just for bourbon, it’s not just in Kentucky — I think one thing that you can really think on is how can you give someone a complete package? I don’t think it’s sufficient these days to say, “Here’s the bottle of spirits, and here’s a recipe.” The recipes are great, but as we pointed out, people have a ton of resources for recipes, including VinePair. And if you’re not checking out our drinks catalog, you really should. It’s an amazing repository. I’m an experienced bartender, and I go look at recipes on there all the damn time. I’m probably the one responsible for the Aviation being so popular. But I would say that I think that if you’re a producer, not just the bar or other kind of purveyor of spirits, it’s good to think about how we can channel our ability to produce things at some scale, and maybe you put together three or four. I think cocktail kits are a little played out, but I think if you have “here’s the bottle of spirit and here’s the bottle of mixer” people are going to eat that s**t up because most people, as Erica was alluding to, they don’t want to do more than combine two or three ingredients, stir or shake, and drink. And if you can give them a complex, interesting, pretty-to-look- at, or at least super-tasty kind of cocktail in a couple of packages — especially one that they can, as you said, Adam, access whenever they want, that they can go back to over a period of a few days or weeks — you have an opportunity there to capture some attention and some sales that just doing spirit sales or just doing cocktails may not afford you.
E: It’s shocking to me that people still buy simple syrup. But apparently that is a growth opportunity in many liquor stores right now. Those types of things, people are looking for those small variations that they just don’t have to make it themselves. They don’t want to put some lemon peel into some sugar and water and make an infused syrup. So I think that’s another area we as publications, brand ambassadors, whatever it is, just giving people the tools to help them figure out how to make a couple simple drinks. I think that’s actually one of the biggest opportunities I see with Cognac. Which I know we have been blown away by seeing how much it has grown off-premise. Nielsen just released some numbers showing that over the summer, it’s up 61 percent year over year. And a lot of that is the volume shifting from on-premise to off-premise. But I think the bigger point is that there have been so many successful collaborations and spokespeople with people from the sports world, from the music world, but I still think that a lot of consumers have no idea what to do with Cognac. And so we’re still 100 percent giving them some ideas of, “Hey, here’s a product and here’s a couple of ways to use it.” It could be as simple as a French Manhattan, Cognac-based Manhattan, a Sidecar, a variation on an Old Fashioned. These things do not have to be difficult. But I think brands and ambassadors and bartenders just giving those small variations can really make a difference and help those people find a following. And I think that’s one of the big opportunities for drinks professionals right now. Using social media and or newsletters or other platforms to try to build an audience when you can’t have that audience in person.
Z: I think the other piece is, and this is a great opportunity where, whether it’s on social media or just in home education opportunities, one thing that’s really cool is you can really showcase technique when and where technique is appropriate. All of us have smartphones, most of us have a computer that can record a video. Show people how to do this stuff. It’s amazing to me — it’s also not surprising, on the other hand — that my dad doesn’t know how to make a Manhattan. Every time he wants one, he calls and goes, “What exactly goes in it?” And my dad is not an unsophisticated person in some senses, but it’s true that there isn’t that retained knowledge for a lot of people if you’re not doing it all that often. And it’s something as simple as, how do you actually shake or stir a drink? If you can arm people with that knowledge, let alone how to make a drink with an egg white or something like that. That’s getting up there, but just the basics. People are super interested in mastering those skills, but are also very unsure of themselves. And so the more you can give them the ability to feel confident, engage with content that you’ve created, they’re going to be loyal because this sucks, and so we’re all looking for fun, and points of connection, and people that we can feel connected to, even if we can’t see them in person.
A: Yes, I agree. And I think I’d be remiss if we didn’t say we know this is an industry we love, a lot of you are our friends, we’re all hurting from what’s happening right now, and if there’s any other way that we can be helpful, please reach out. You know, you can email us at email@example.com and tell us what we can do. There’s obviously lots of things that we’ve tried, initiatives we’ve started already, but we would love to highlight things that you might be doing if you’re doing really creative things in your city. Or your brand is doing interesting things to give back. We’ve tried to do that through highlighting different interviews throughout the week in addition to this roundtable we do every Monday. So please let us know. Shoot us an email, and we’ll do our best to get back to you and try to shed light on as many people as possible in the industry and how everyone can be helpful.
Z: Absolutely. We love that we’ve been able to be a resource in these times. We hate that it’s come to that, but it’s been really powerful for all of us. I think that we’ve been able to shine some light and hopefully offer some suggestions, solutions, and opportunities for all of you.
A: 100 percent.
E: Definitely. And we are definitely dedicated to highlighting people from the BIPOC community, women, voices that are not often heard or have not had platforms. I think that’s one of the most successful things that we’ve been able to do, is use VinePair as a platform for good in the drinks industry, and we’re dedicated to that. It’s a pillar of our editorial and something that we are dedicated to throughout our programming. So if your voice has not been heard and you are looking for an outlet either to write or to be a source, please do reach out.
A: Yeah. Again, the email is firstname.lastname@example.org, it’s the easiest way. Or email@example.com for writing and to be a source in some of our articles. We really would appreciate you to reach out. And guys, my Ranch Water is done, so I think that means the podcast is over.
Z: Oh yeah, I’m going to have my last sip.
E: I’m still sipping.
A: I’ll read a word from our sponsor again. The 2020 Sherry Wines Mixology Challenge is on. Again, I don’t think I need to educate you on what sherry is, but just in case, sherry is a fortified wine from southern Spain and has become the secret ingredient of many innovative cocktails for its versatility and complex flavor profile. Again, if you’ve attended Tales multiple years, you already know this. Show your mixology skills and enter to win by submitting your very own sherry cocktail creation. Prizes of $3,000, $1,500, and $500 will be awarded to the top three winners for the most innovative sherry cocktails. Visit vinepair.com/sherry-mixology-challenge for details, inspiration, and the instructions to enter. And with that, we wish everyone a good Tales. We hope to see you in person next year. And thank you so much for listening. And Zach, Erica, see you next week.
E: See you next week.
Z: Sounds great.
A: Thanks so much for listening to the VinePair Podcast. If you enjoy listening to us every week, please leave us a review or rating on iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, or wherever it is that you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show. Now, for the credits. VinePair is produced and hosted by Zach Geballe, Erica Duecy and me: Adam Teeter. Our engineer is Nick Patri and Keith Beavers. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder Josh Malin and the rest of the VinePair team for their support. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you again right here next week.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.